Books

Spiritual books by Francis Phillips

Turkey is edging away from secularism as President Erdoğan consolidates power (Getty)

Derya Little, the author of From Islam to Christ: One Woman’s Path Through the Riddles of God (Ignatius Press, £12.99), writes under a pseudonym for obvious reasons. She grew up as a Muslim in Turkey and provides an interesting glimpse into a world where, in his new secular republic, Kemal Atatürk had imposed an “Islam-lite culture”. Women were not allowed to cover their hair or wear the hijab – “You were not supposed to be too Muslim” – but neither were you meant to be anything else.

Into this ambivalent society Little brought her own youthful questions, finally concluding that Islam was based on fear “and the utter submission that results from that fear”. She reminisces: “When one’s starting point is fear, not love, mercy or grace, this fear becomes the heavy hand.”

Her home life did not help. Her parents divorced in her early teens and her father left the family home. There were constant money worries, pressures at school, an absentee parent. Given these difficulties, and having investigated the shortcomings and contradictions within Islam, Little unsurprisingly lost her faith in her teens. She drank heavily and became depressed. In her 20s she experienced two failed relationships with secularised Muslim men and endured two abortions.

Her journey to the Church was long, chequered – and providential. In 1999, she volunteered to become a Turkish language tutor to Therese, a married American Christian woman working as a missionary in Ankara. Little instinctively sensed that Therese was someone who had “a glimmer of light … if nothing else, curiosity about where that light came from brought me back time after time”. At the same time, at university in Ankara, she read the Inquisitor’s speech in The Brothers Karamazov: “The first time I had comprehended what it means to live in a fallen world.”

Deeply drawn to the Evangelical faith of her Christian friends, Little nonetheless felt afraid to convert. Christians in Turkey were treated as second-class citizens and there was constant, subtle persecution. Finally, in October 2002, she announced to her new friends: “I think today is a wonderful day to become a Christian.” Nonetheless, after her (full immersion) baptism, the author’s restless intelligence forced her to ask further questions about the Christian religion she had joined.

A chance encounter with a Catholic convert pointed her towards Mark Shea’s By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition. Afterwards, Little found a French Jesuit missionary priest in Ankara to give her formal instruction. She finally entered the Church when studying as a postgraduate at Durham University.

Now married to an American convert and living in the US, Little writes about her new faith with passion and commitment. As Turkey under President Erdoğan slips further away from the secular state envisaged by its founder and becomes a more overtly Islamic country, where men are “overlords of their families rather than husbands and fathers”, it is salutary to read the journey of one woman who discovered in Christianity that “men and women stand before Christ as equals”.

It was Pope Francis who first described the Church as a field hospital for the wounded. This graphic and arresting description should be seen as a gentle reminder that we all – not just those regarded as obviously sick, whether mentally or physically – require healing in our lives. This insight should not be seen as undermining the Church’s tradition, her sacraments and her teaching authority. It is simply recognising that we will not be effective evangelists for our faith (as we are all called to be) unless we accept our own hidden “wounds”.

Alan Guile and Fr Jim McManus are the editors of this comprehensive study of the ways Christians need healing, Healing Wounds in the Field Hospital of the Church (Gracewing, £15.99). Both have spent more than 40 years in spiritual renewal work and healing ministries.

It is very easy to dismiss their ministry as part of the “charismatic” wing of the Church: something extra to habitual parish life and certainly not for ordinary Catholics in the pew, especially as healing services are not a normal feature of diocesan or parish life. But, as the authors point out, Christ did not found a Church so that we could be content with merely fulfilling our Sunday obligation. His Gospel healings were meant to be transformative, for his followers as well as for the sick.

Many aspects of healing, along with moving personal stories, are covered in the book: addiction, abortion, sexual abuse, marriage breakdown and demonic activity are just some of them. They are described by contributors who have specialised in these particular areas of spiritual trauma.

Rejecting dubious “spiritual” practices such as yoga, tai chi, Reiki and other New Age techniques, the editors make a plea for a national Catholic residential centre for inner healing.

Contrasting nominal Christianity with authentic Christianity, the editors comment that there are many people “who would describe themselves as practising Catholics, who have been led to believe that all God and the Church expect of them is to attend Mass once a week”. Christ demands more.